One of the England’s leading evangelical leaders has come out as a lesbian, accepting a position as head of a pro-LGBT Christian organization after spending years in ministries that tried to suppress her homosexuality.
Jayne Ozanne, 46, has worked for over a decade among prominent evangelical circles within the Church of England, the main Christian denomination in the UK. In her capacity as a high-profile lay faith leader, she has prayed alongside two Archbishops of Canterbury — the head of the Church — and become a founding member of the Archbishops’ Council, a highly influential organization within church government, in 1999, among other roles.
During this same time period, however, Ozanne told Christian Today that she struggled to pair her brand of evangelicalism with what she came to understand as her homosexuality. Initially believing that homosexual feelings meant that something was “wrong” with her, she participated in various iterations of “deliverance ministry” — a practice similar to so-called “ex-gay therapy” where clergy attempt to “expel a sexual orientation … regarded as demonic.” The efforts repeatedly failed, sending Ozanne — who had a successful career in international marketing before serving on the council — into a spiral that ultimately culminated in a nervous breakdown. Her psychiatrist, she said, advised her to change her religion.
“[Deliverance Ministry was like] trying to cast out myself from myself,” Ozanne told Christian Today. “Nothing was going to budge.”
Still wrestling with her faith, Ozanne finally came out to a small group of friends and church leaders in 2009 and even had a five-year relationship with a woman, but otherwise kept her sexuality private. However, when popular British Christian rock star Vicky Beeching came out as gay in August of last year, Ozanne said she was inspired to once again take on a leadership role within the Church: Ozanne announced this week that she is accepting a position as the new head of Accepting Evangelicals, which describes itself as a “network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
“It is the evangelical church more than any that needs to learn how to hear and embrace each other,” she said.
Ozanne’s public declaration of her sexuality makes her one of the few — and one of the most prominent — UK Christian leaders to come out as LGBT. You can watch video of Ozanne’s announcement below:
Ozanne’s announcement comes at an interesting time for the Church of England, which has had several rigorous debates over homosexuality and same-sex marriage — which is currently banned by the church — in recent years. The conservative Christian group Reform pulled out of formal church talks about the subject last October, demanding that Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, renounce his support for same-sex marriage. The church is also struggling with how to respond when gay priests in England marry their partners, which is legal in England but, again, banned by the church. Currently the church’s official position is that gay Anglican clergy are allowed to enter into civil partnerships, but only if they remain celibate. Meanwhile, several priests have openly declared their intention to defy the church’s ban and bless same-sex weddings.
By contrast, the Episcopal Church in the United States — which, like the Church of England, is part of the Anglican Communion, although the religious bodies enjoy relative autonomy from one another — has allowed for the blessing of same-sex unions since 2009, and two distinguished female Episcopal priests were married in one of the church’s cathedrals in Boston, Massachusetts in 2010.